Stems Cells and Real People

Are Human Embryos Worth More than Living Lebanese?

Wednesday, 19 July 2006

President Bush today issued the first veto of his presidency, turning down a bipartisan bill that would allow human embryos from fertility clinics that were destined for destruction to be used for biomedical stem cell research. The scientists who work with stem cells make great claims for embryonic stem cells. They say that one day we will be able to grow new kidneys or livers, heal traumatic spine injuries, and cure Parkinson's and childhood diabetes. Unfortunately, federal funding will not be available for these projects for at least the next two and a half years, when a new president replaces our current one. In the meantime, other countries will pursue this research and forge ahead of U.S. scientists. More importantly, children and adults whose lives could have been saved by embryonic stem cell research will suffer an additional three years, and perhaps die, because the cure has been pushed back at least that long.

The president vetoed the bill on moral grounds, he says, because the human embryos that would be used by scientists were "human life." Though the matter is certainly debatable, since human beings cannot be developed from embryos in a Petri dish, most medical ethicists do not identify an embryo as human life until it is successfully implanted in a woman's uterus. The bill that the president vetoed stipulates that only discarded embryos whose owners have voluntarily donated them may be used, so none of the embryos eligible for use would have ever developed into actual, living people. By comparison, the people who suffer from debilitating diseases and life-threatening injuries are both living and breathing.

In sharp contrast to his concern for discarded human embryos, whose status as living human beings is questionable at best, the president has shown no concern for the hundreds of Lebanese who are being slaughtered by Israeli bombs. As of today, the death toll of Lebanese stands at more than 300 in the past week, while the Israeli death toll from Hezbollah rockets is 29. This indiscriminate massacre, conducted with the approval of the Bush administration, is supposedly in response to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah soldiers last week. The kidnapping of the soldiers, in turn, was justified by Hezbollah as retaliation for Israeli attacks on Gaza, which were justified by the Israelis as retaliation for Palestinians kidnapping an Israeli soldier, which was justified by the Palestinians as retaliation for Israeli bombings of Gaza that killed numerous civilians, . . . . Both Israelis and Palestinians--and their Arab allies--have cause to blame the other side for their actions. However, it is the Israelis, with their superior, U.S.-supplied weapons, who have overreached on a massive scale in the bombing of Lebanon.

When we lived in South Africa in the late 1980s, the South African government would regularly report that it took this or that military action against "terrorists" and that they inflicted casualties at a rate at least ten times that of their adversaries. This reporting in the government-controlled media was a transparent attempt (1) to justify the indiscriminate slaughter of black opponents of the white government, whether soldiers or civilians, and (2) to show their enemies their superior weaponry and willingness to use it, a tactic that would later be called "shock and awe" by the Bush administration. Well, shock and awe didn't work in South Africa, it didn't work earlier in Vietnam, it hasn't worked in Iraq, and it won't work in Lebanon. This is just a pragmatic conclusion that can be drawn by anyone who knows anything about recent history and who is willing to do a little research. That, of course, leaves out the president.

From a theological rather than a pragmatic point of view, the Israeli bombing of Lebanon, and the U.S. support of it, is nothing short of a barbarous act of wanton destruction and murder. The Just War doctrine, which the U.S. administration (but not Israel) claims to believe in, calls for a response to an attack that is proportional to the offense. A slaughter ratio of 10 to 1 is not proportional. Both Just War doctrine and international standards call for civilians to be spared, and the Israeli bombing of Lebanon does not do so. In addition to immediate loss of life as a result of rockets and bombs, the destruction of water systems and electrical power plants, both in Lebanon and in Gaza, is also an assault on civilians, since many more will die as a result of contaminated water and lack of electricity to run emergency equipment in hospitals, etc. Just look at Iraq to see many examples of the results of the destruction of infrastructure on the population.

The Israeli government cannot be held to even the low standards of Just War doctrine, since they do not subscribe to its tenets, but they are in clear violation of international standards. Yes, they have a right to defend themselves. No, killing hundreds of people and bombing a country back to the Stone Age is not defending oneself. The U.S. government, on the other hand, can be held accountable both to international standards, as the Israeli arms supplier and chief encourager, and to the Just War doctrine, because the president claims to believe in it.

The person who sits in the car with the motor running while his partner robs a store and kills the people inside is just as guilty of murder as the man who pulls the trigger. The U.S. is the wheelman for the Israeli murder of hundreds of Lebanese. It is time for Christians in the U.S. and around the world to stand up to our so-called "Christian" leaders and tell them we won't stand for these atrocities to be committed by people who claim the name of Christ.

© Copyright 2006, Progressive Theology

Progressive Theology